Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Dinner with Donald Deadbeat, Trump too big to fail, another shutdown over the wall, and other cons and myths

Back in June of 2016 I posted about how Donald “Deadbeat” Trump does not pay his bills … … at least not some of them. There are damning investigations appearing in national news outlets about the thousands of bills Trump’s companies did not pay. They contract for the work, refuse to pay or offer a fraction of what is owed, drag the small contractors into costly legal actions, and the small guys get burned.

It didn’t have to be that way. Trump’s financial difficulties caught the attention of Atlantic City regulators who, in theory, were in a position to put an end to Trump’s grifting. In politico.com Michael Kruse reports on The 5 People Who Could Have Stopped Trump. Gambling regulators once contemplated yanking Trump’s casino licenses. Why they didn’t holds a lesson for lawmakers today.

[In the Spring of 1991] the regulators had overwhelming reason to question his financial stature and overall fitness to continue. In addition to Trump’s dismal individual straits, the cash flow at his debt-riddled casinos wasn’t enough to make them profitable as the industry sagged in the throes of a recession. Trump’s “financial viability,” Steven P. Perskie, the chairman of the commission, stated at a meeting in May, “is in serious peril.” He and his fellow commissioners had a choice to make: renew Trump’s licenses and hope his bottom line improved—or strip him of them and risk delivering a debilitating blow to Atlantic City’s wheezing economy.

Today, more than a generation later and a year out from the 2020 election, Trump in the White House is staring at a fundamentally similar scenario—the growing probability that his fate will be decided by a group of regulators, albeit of a different, more high-profile ilk but nonetheless obligated to determine whether he can remain in office long enough for voters to decide whether he deserves a second term. Just as there are people who are empowered to stop him now—members of Congress, in particular Republicans—there were people who could have stopped him then. And didn’t.

What the casino commissioners—Perskie and Vice Chair Valerie H. Armstrong along with W. David Waters, James R. Hurley and Frank J. Dodd—opted for instead was a different form of oversight, enacting stricter monitoring, mandating a regimen of daily, weekly and monthly updates and reports from Trump and his upper-tier staff. Some of the commissioners, too, engaged in occasional harrumphing and finger-wagging, logging into the record words like “incomplete,” “confusing,” “disappointing” and “disheartening,” sounding at times like precursors to GOP lawmakers’ mostly toothless tsk-tsking toward Trump these past few years. In the end, though, worried about the prospect of shuttered casinos, thousands of jobs lost and general area economic disarray that might have rippled on account of his ousting, they essentially let him skate.

“He was just too big,” said Jack O’Donnell, a former Trump casino executive who resigned in 1990 and wrote a deeply unflattering tell-all book in 1991.

“He was too big to fail,” said Marvin Roffman, a veteran casino analyst who had been outspoken in his predictions that the debt Trump took on to fuel his Atlantic City endeavors was going to lead to collapse and was fired because of it after his company bowed to pressure from the angered developer.

“They were worried about if he went down, Atlantic City would go down with him,” Trump biographer Tim O’Brien told me. “He was the star of Atlantic City, and it became like regulatory capture”—a term that refers to instances in which a governmental body kowtows to a dominant interest in an industry it’s assigned to regulate.

There was as well something more subtle at play, perhaps, something that speaks more to human nature than selfless concern for casino workers on the edge. If the commissioners had cracked down totally on Trump, it would have accentuated how often before they had given him a pass. To all of a sudden cut him down would have forced questions about the manner in which for years they so reliably had built him up.

“He sniffed that weakness, that they were not going to really, you know, enforce anything,” fellow Trump biographer Gwenda Blair said. “They were not going to take away his license. They couldn’t. It sounds awfully simple-minded, but that’s it. He figures it out so that for people to go against him it’s going to make them look bad: It’s going to make them look bad that they ever approved his casinos, it’s going to make the bankers look bad that they ever gave him his loans, it’s going to make the Republican Party look bad that it ever got behind him.”

But pulsing, too, through this episode involving Trump’s regulators from the past are lessons for his regulators of the present. As the latter calculate the advantages and downsides of challenging the most powerful elected official on the planet, they would be wise to recall that Atlantic City’s decision to save Trump was part of a broader effort to save the city itself. And it didn’t work.

The lessons for our times are these. The current regulators, Republican members of Congress, are not about to stop (i.e., impeach) Trump because, like the gambling regulators of Atlantic City, they personally are invested in that decision. To impeach Trump would be to admit that they were wrong in the previous and many ways they have supported and defended him. But by letting Trump off the moral, financial, and legal hooks, they place the nation at risk for failure - just as the gaming industry in Atlantic City finally collapsed.

[By 2009 Atlantic City] was a husk of what it wanted to be when it OK’d casinos and kept greenlighting Trump—the result of “a decades-long losing streak,” as the Washington Post put it last year.

In his [2016 presidential] campaign, pressed periodically about his record there, Trump congratulated himself while criticizing the place that saved him. “I had the good sense to leave Atlantic City,” he said in the first GOP debate. “I left Atlantic City before it totally cratered, and I made a lot of money in Atlantic City, and I’m very proud of it.” In Atlantic City, there were lots of losers. Not Trump, he said. “Atlantic City fueled a lot of growth for me,” he told the New York Times in 2016. “The money I took out of there was incredible.”

That would be other people’s money.

It has come up less during his presidency. There have been more immediate crises to worry about than his history in Atlantic City. At this juncture, though, as Trump attacks power-checking Democrats and angles to maintain sufficient acquiescence from the members of his own party who matter the most, it’s imperative to consider anew the calculations that allowed him to skirt accountability in the spring and summer of 1991. They pack fresh relevance now.

“They should have taken his license, given it to a trustee, and today we wouldn’t be dealing with Donald Trump in the White House,” David Cay Johnston, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who covered Atlantic City and the hearings of ‘91 for the Philadelphia Inquirer, told me. But “they could not bring themselves to go back and acknowledge that they got it completely wrong. They had to protect their position.”

Christine Todd Whitman, the former governor of New Jersey, told me Republicans in Congress—especially in the Senate, if and when Trump’s fate comes down to their votes in an impeachment trial—need to do what the casino commissioners in Atlantic City did not. “They need to stand up to him,” she said. “He needs to be held accountable for his actions.”

… the broad-brush parallels being what they are, I asked people who know Trump and know Atlantic City if they had any advice for Republicans currently in Congress.

“What they should be thinking about, in my opinion, is that if they think they’ve seen the worst, they’re wrong,” O’Donnell said. “This behavior, so to speak, this outrageousness, whatever you want to call it, this lack of loyalty, is going to escalate.”

“What you could say is, and which is true in Atlantic City, is you gave him a break,” said Simon. “And all he cared about was himself. And in the end, you could give him a break, if you’re a Republican, but he will do you in.”

“Anyone who thinks that Donald Trump is important to their long-term viability is either not very bright or kidding themselves,” O’Brien said. “He never shows any gratitude for the people who cut him slack. He just blames things on them.”

The lesson, then, from 1991?

“That if they tether their future to Donald Trump in the belief that without him they won’t have a bright or successful future,” he said, “they might as well just step right off the cliff with him.”

We are facing that cliff. And in another way, the Donald of the 90s has returned in the form of the Donald of 2016.

In January 2019 John Nichols wrote in The Nation how Trump Got Rich by Screwing Over Workers—Of Course He’s Doing It Again as President. “For decades, Trump repeatedly didn’t pay those who worked for him, and now that he’s in the White House, little has changed.”

Of course not. Trump is a genetic grifter, a congenital con man. Nichols explains.

The biggest lie ever told in American politics is the claim that Donald Trump cares about working people.

He never has. He never will.

As a bankruptcy-prone business mogul, Trump has always financed his lavish lifestyle at the expense of the workers and contractors he screwed over. Now he is doing the same thing as president, having engineered a government shutdown that on Friday denied 800,000 federal employees their paychecks.

“Cheating, scamming, and ripping off workers is a Donald Trump tradition that goes back decades. Federal workers are just Trump’s latest victims,” says Public Citizen president Robert Weissman. “For decades, Trump repeatedly didn’t pay those who worked for him, and now that he’s in the White House, little has changed. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers and employees of federal contractors are suffering the same fate because of the Trump shutdown.”

Trump promised during the 2016 campaign that “the American worker will finally have a president who will protect them and fight for them.”

That was a lie.

As Weissman says, Trump has as president “betrayed workers at every turn.”

“From rolling back health, safety and wage protections to misleading coal miners to tax giveaways for billionaires and big corporations that left most Americans with a pittance,” he explains, “it should be obvious by now that Trump holds working people beneath contempt."

And here he goes again. Yesterday ABC News reported that Congress may be headed toward another government shutdown.

As the nation’s capital is consumed by the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, President Donald Trump on Sunday signaled that he is not committed to keeping the federal government open later this month – setting up another potential government shutdown ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.

In response to a question asking the president whether he would commit to avoiding another shutdown like the one that roiled Washington almost one year ago, Trump refused to rule out the possibility.

“I wouldn’t commit to anything,” Trump told reporters on the White House South Lawn on Sunday. “It depends on what the negotiations are.”

Last week, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he was concerned that Trump would shut down the government over the impeachment inquiry.

“I believe left to our own devices Congress could work out an agreement to quickly fund the government,” Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters on Capitol Hill. “But I’m increasingly worried that President Trump may want to shut down the government again because of impeachment, an impeachment inquiry. He always wants to create diversions.”

… the key is the Homeland Security bill, where Senate Republicans want $5 billion diverted from the Labor and Health and Human Services budget to provide additional money for the president’s border wall.

Democrats don’t support that and their bill, which has only passed out of committee, does not include any new funds for the border wall. An aide said Democrats are open to increasing Homeland Security funding – for Coast Guard ice breakers, for example – but they insist any offsets cannot come from domestic programs in the Labor and HHS title.

“How we get out of it, I don’t know,” the Democratic aide said. “But there’s a general commitment we’re not going to shut down.”

Where are the winners?

Here’s another sign of the president not being able to help himself when it comes to running a con.

In a Public post at popular.info, Judd Legum explores the question: The Trump campaign holds a lot of contests. Does anyone win?.

The Trump campaign has held at least 15 contests since 2018 offering the chance to win breakfast, lunch, or dinner with President Trump. Supporters are enticed to donate to Trump’s campaign with promises of free travel, accommodations, and an “epic” meal with Trump at various locations across the country. An investigation by Popular Information, however, did not uncover evidence that anyone has ever actually won.

Dangling a meal with the candidate to encourage small-dollar contributions is a common tactic in modern presidential politics. Campaigns are typically eager to publicize these meals because: 1. They show the candidate interacting with average Americans, and 2. They encourage more people to enter the next contest.

Elizabeth Warren’s campaign, for example, had a contest in July to “Grab a Beer with Elizabeth.” Warren posted several photos of her toasting with “Mike and his wife Linda, from Elma New York!”

Who won all of the meals that Trump was supposed to have with supporters? No one will say.

Last Monday, Trump was supposed to have lunch with a contest winner in Chicago. Numerous Facebook ads promised people who donated to his campaign a “VIP trip” and an “epic” meal.

The contest was also heavily promoted over email. “I just saw the most recent list of Patriots who have contributed to win a trip to meet me in Chicago on October 28th, and I noticed you STILL haven’t entered,” Trump “wrote” in an October 22 email. “We’d hate for you to miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have lunch with President Trump himself at his FAVORITE hotel in Chicago,” the campaign said in another message sent on October 23.

On Monday, October 28, the day that Trump was traveling to Chicago, I contacted Anne Gearan, the Washington Post reporter who was traveling with Trump on behalf of the press. (This role is known informally as the “pooler” or “pool.”) I asked Gearan if she had heard anything about a contest winner having lunch with Trump.

She had not, but she put in a request for information with the Trump campaign and the White House. She included her request in the pool report.

Note: pool asked but has not received info from either the campaign or the White House about results of a contest for lunch with the president at this event. Will pass along anything I get.

Gearan never passed along any information, and I confirmed with her that she never received any information about the Chicago contest winner.

The winner of the Chicago lunch and 14 other completed contests for meals with Trump remain shrouded in mystery. These contests were promoted heavily via email and Facebook. The Trump campaign has sent at least 86 emails over the last two years about the meals.

But neither Trump nor the campaign ever publicly disclosed the winners. This is perplexing because even something as simple as releasing a photo of the meal is an easy way to generate positive news coverage and increase interest in the next contest.

Last week, Popular Information contacted Matt Wolking, Deputy Director of Communications for the Trump campaign, and requested the names of the contest winners and/or photos of the meals. Wolking did not respond.

The Trump campaign did send out a text message about a new contest to have lunch with him in Atlanta.

Trump is scheduled to visit Atlanta for a fundraiser on November 8. The tight turnaround raises questions about whether such a meal is realistically possible. As of Sunday, November 3, entries to the contest are still open. Even if the contest ended Sunday, this leaves the Trump campaign just four days to select a winner, arrange logistics, and presumably vet the winner for security and public relations purposes.

Most contests run by the Trump campaign follow a pattern ⁠— messages over email and Facebook, promoting a meal with Trump at a location that Trump will be visiting soon.

But for several weeks in August and September of 2018, the Trump campaign bought hundreds of Facebook ads about a contest for a dinner with Trump with no designated location. This contest, unlike the others, does not appear to be promoted over email.

But like all the other contests, there was no announced winner.

Is it a scam?

Are these contests, which promise a meal with Trump, a scam? Is the Trump campaign swindling its own supporters? We don’t know.

Scriber thinks it’s a good bet given Trump’s history as a deadbeat and grifter.

In one respect, failing to go through with the meals makes little sense. The estimated value of each meal, including transportation and accommodations, is $3,000. For a campaign that is raising tens of millions of dollars every quarter, this is a pittance.

But this is a campaign that has been willing to scam its supporters before. As Popular Information documented in May, the Trump campaign held a campaign to give away “the 1 millionth MAGA hat,” signed by Trump. On May 23, the Trump campaign ran a Facebook ad claiming that the deadline to enter was midnight.

It ran that same ad, claiming a midnight deadline, for 12 days: May 23, 24, 25, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, June 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Here, the Trump campaign is telling an obvious lie to its supporters about a midnight deadline to gain a small advantage. Falsely claiming a deadline was midnight likely encouraged people to enter at a higher rate.

Is the Trump campaign failing to follow through on its meal contests to save a few thousand dollars and Trump some time? I need your help to find out.

If you have information about who won these contests — or know someone who does — please contact me at judd@popular.info. Or you can use my secure email: jlegum@protonmail.com.

Now, now. No breath holding!

I leave you with a Trumpian failure - the closing of the Taj in Atlantic City (from the politico.com story). Think of this as a metaphor for the America in our future if Congress will not, or cannot, constrain Trump.

War room
Top: A liquidation sale at the former Trump Taj Mahal Casino and Resort, in 2017. The property will be redeveloped in a Hard Rock Cafe-owned resort, but signage and branding (bottom) found in rooms and hallways reminds of the previous occupancy. | Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images; About

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